Deputy finds long-dead body of 80-year-old
Ozark County Sheriff’s Deputy Cpl. Curtis Dobbs made a grisly discovery earlier this month when he found an 80-year-old Gainesville woman’s long-dead body during a well-being check.
Ozark County Coroner Shane Ledbetter confirmed to the Times Sunday that the body of Jan Holbert was found on June 1 at her home on Highway 181 near Brushy Knob Church and that he estimated she had been dead since at least March 1. “It was a bad deal, it sure was,” Ledbetter said, adding that, as far as he could determine, Holbert had no next of kin.
She was well known to Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed, who said Monday he had “dealt with her for years.” He and his deputies tried to check on her occasionally, he said, but she made it clear she didn’t want to be bothered.
“I felt sorry for her, but she ran us off every time we went to check on her,” Reed said.
It’s not clear how Holbert ended up living in Ozark County, but after talking with residents who knew her, the .has pieced together a probable description of her life here.
A woman who had befriended her but asked not to be named said Holbert was born Nov. 29, 1938, in Amazonia, Missouri, the daughter of John and Catherine Carter Farmer. “She must have been married at some point,” the former friend told the Times, “but she never talked about that.”
The woman said Holbert retired from the Emerson Electric plant in Ava sometime around 2001. She lived in different places near Gainesville for several years. It’s believed she was living in the home on Highway 181 by agreement with the property’s out-of-state owner. She also had goods stored in a local rental unit.
Through the years, Holbert wrote several letters to the editor that were published in the Times, once offering praise for improvements at the laundromat and another time thanking strangers who helped her get to the courtroom to vote. In other letters she complained about farmers market vendors who took up too much space on the Gainesville square and about retail store employees who didn’t tell customers about a $5 coupon on the bottom of each receipt.
Various residents had befriended her in the last couple of years, bringing her to town to run errands, delivering groceries or taking her to doctor’s appointments. But apparently, in recent years, her nature had become more quarrelsome – at least as far as the sheriff’s department was concerned. Post office employees also reportedly endured some of her scoldings, as well as the sheriff’s deputies.
Reed said when his officers tried to check on her at her home, she would yell and cuss at them and “say she didn’t want us on her property,” Reed said. “She’d threaten to shoot us. And she did own a .357 magnum. She didn’t want anyone coming on her place but the sheriff.”
But sometimes she didn’t want Reed to come, either. To save money, she lived mostly in a small bathroom in the back of the house, Reed said. “She had a little heater in there she used to keep warm, and she put a mattress in the bathtub, and that’s where she slept. I’d come to check on her, and I’d peck on that back window, and say, ‘Jan, it’s the sheriff,’ and she’d yell, ‘Get off my property!’” he said.
“We called senior services, but she didn’t want no part of that. We tried everything under the sun to help her, but she didn’t want it,” he said.
She did sometimes accept food from the Ozark County Food Pantry. But when volunteers delivered the groceries, she met them in the yard and insisted on carting the goods into the house herself.
Reed said that one time in the past, Holbert called him out to her house, “and I listened to her for two hours.” Also, he said, “there were times when I would take five or six calls from her a week, and I’d be on the phone with her 45 minutes.”
He asked her once if she had any relatives. “None that I would claim,” she answered.
In the last year, he said, Holbert’s condition grew “progressively worse.”
Then, back in the winter, “she ended up calling us and saying she needed an ambulance,” Reed said. “They took her to Baxter [Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, Arkansas]. She was there awhile, and then they put her in a nursing home down there, and she was mad at us because she’d wound up in Mountain Home.”
When she left the nursing home, “somebody must have brought her home, and I guess she never walked out the door again,” said the woman who had helped her previously.
The last time sheriff’s deputies saw her alive was several weeks ago, when Dobbs and Chief Deputy Winston Collins went to the home. “She called out the window for them to get off her property, and then she called the sheriff’s office and said, ‘Call your dogs off, or I’m gonna shoot ’em,’” Reed said. “She said, ‘If I need you, I’ll call you.’”
Despite her warning, Reed sent Dobbs back to Holbert’s home on June 1. When he got there, all was quiet. There were no shouts out the window, no threats about getting shot.
“Curt called me and said nobody answered when he knocked, and I told him to go on in,” Reed said.
Dobbs found Holbert’s badly decomposed body in the bathroom where she lived. A dead cat was also found in the house.
The woman who had helped Holbert earlier told authorities she knew Holbert had a safe deposit box at Century Bank. When the box’s lock was drilled recently, Holbert’s birth certificate was found inside, as well as a will specifying what was to happen to her possessions and also instructing that her ashes were to be “scattered under a tree up on the hill,” the woman said.
“It’s a sad deal, but I’m telling you, she was one of them women who wanted to be left alone,” Reed said. “Bless her heart.”